I have spent so much time in the upstate and in the mountains this year, that I sometimes forget what we have in my own back yard. Those who say Columbia, SC doesn’t have hills need to ride the Lake Wateree route first. To my surprise, this was among the more challenging rides in which I have participated this year.
As an active member of Carolina Cyclers, I had a small hand in planning for this event. When I say small, I mean very small. John Quinn was the one who did most of the work and he did a wonderful job. He is also a doctor, and happened to be on call this weekend. I was officially his back-up. If he were called away, I wouldn’t be able to ride and would spend my time behind the scenes making sure everything went accordingly. I showed up bright and early at 6AM to help get everything prepared. To my relief, John was there and had not been called. This meant I had the green light to ride.
One great thing about cycling is that you support some useful charities. This one, however, is my charity of choice. Many know of the Wounded Warriors Project that helps injured service members after serving their country. The Ride2Recovery project is part of that program. It uses the sport of cycling to help these soldiers recover. The idea is that, as an intense cardio fitness activity, it can help with physical, mental and emotional rehabilitation. The program uses the proceeds to get equipment (bikes) and put together functions to get them out to ride. I have met a number of these ‘Warriors’ on various rides and they are all tremendous people. I was glad to help. Special thanks to Ron Doiron and Jim Bush in bringing this program to our attention.
We also had the support of the American Legion Riders, who directed us around the course through their motorcycle support. The American Legion Auxiliary Unit under the capable leadership of Louise Winesett provided the volunteer assistance and they were tremendous. They helped with registration, aid at rest stops, and best of all, they prepared a fantastic lunch after the ride. Because of their assistance, this was probably the most supported Columbia ride.
Unlike most other local rides, there was a more ceremonious feeling in the air. There were photo opportunitities for the programs and a number of pre-ride announcements. The American Legion Auxiliary Unit donated three Trek bicycles to the Wounded Warrior program. Senator Joel Lourie also stopped by and gave a short speech supporting the program and thanking the Warriors for their service. After a short prayer, we were off on the ride.
The weather was clear, but surprisingly cool in the morning. Overnight temperatures were in the lower 50s, which I believe is the lowest we have had in months. There was a strong, chilling wind that made the temperature feel even cooler when riding. In the early going I could feel the temperature in my lungs due to the strong breeze. The temperature rose and in the late morning and earning afternoon, it became perfectly comfortable cycling weather.
Even though I stayed in the front in the early going of the ride, I could tell that I was not at my best. The miles over the past couple weeks were taking their toll. The lead pack became established around Kelly Mill Road, with a buckled in Triathlete pulling the very front. Somehow when bursting through Kelly Mill Road, we missed a turn. The route was marked, but we were just going too fast and the guy in front didn’t know the area. We kept going, even though locals were murmuring that we should have turned there. There were moments of confusion as we barreled along. We were about 1.5 miles away before we finally got the pack to stop and reverse course. And like that, the 72-mile course became 75.
After getting back on course, the pace picked up a bit. I was fine for most of it, even pulling my share. We skipped the first rest stop. Around mile 20, I felt a dull soreness in my upper left quad. At first it didn’t bother too much, but as I continued to spin at a high pace, it took its toll. My pedal stroke became uneven and I knew that would not work at this pace. I backed off the pack and rode alone for awhile, massaging the quad and hopefully working out whatever kink existed. I caught up with two other riders (Steve and Rhiannon from Sumter) and we cruised along together for the next few miles. We reached the second rest stop, which is where we caught the lead pack. I refueled and massaged my quad, hoping it would loosen up.
After the rest stop, the pack became an efficient paceline, which was perfect for me and my ailing muscles. We worked together to get to Lake Road, the cutoff for the longer and shorter routes. From there the pack split and we had about eight remaining for the longer route. The pace slowed slightly on Lake Road, to my delight. I needed a break.
Richard from California, who wore a Ride2Recovery jersey but was not a wounded warrior himself led us through Lake Road. We joked that if he were a wounded warrior, it was false advertising because he was definitely healthy in the hills. He pulled the pack through the majority of Lake Road’s scenic twists and turns. This was a very pleasant ride. The hills were rolling, with some steep inclines, but nothing too challenging. It was more a peaceful route along the banks of the lake that provided nice views the entire time.
After Lake Road, the real climbs began. Of all my Columbia-area rides, this may be the toughest section I have experienced. The first climb out of Wateree was around 1.5 miles. It was not too steep, maybe 6-8% at the beginning before levelling off to 2-4%. The length is what was surprising, as most Columbia hills are short and sweet. I have seen this climb listed as a category 5 (lowest of the Tour de France climb categories), which is the only rated climb in the Columbia area that I am aware.
More climbs followed. They were all of the rolling variety with steep inclines. Some of these hills reminded me of the foothills around the Tigerville/Greenville area. These are the kind that can eat you alive after awhile. That is exactly what happened with me. Part of this was because of the speed in which we were traveling. We accelerated going downhill rather than recovering. My quads, still reeling from all the miles of late, were screaming on every hill for the last 25 miles.
When we finally reached the end, I was spent. It was probably because of the speed, but physically I felt like I would after a big mountain century. Also like those mountain rides, I was famished and exhausted. The best cure was a big lunch and a quiet nap.
Thanks to everyone for a great ride!
Garmin GPS Link